It's now clear what Sony is planning to achieve with its newly-released handheld, PlayStation Vita.
The gorgeous new handheld doesn't come cheaply and is only available in select "specialty" stores, as Sony looks to grab hold of the "core" gaming crowd.
Interestingly, the handheld launches with a broad lineup of software and a functioning PSN Store, making it no more appealing to "hardcore" gamers than what it might be to any casual user: there truly is a game for every different type of gamer.
Win: Win a copy of Dungeon Hunter: Alliance on PS Vita!
The hardware is new, shiny and light, but what makes this at-first-glance PSP clone all that special, and is it worth forking over (at least) $348 for?
PlayStation Vita is not all that unlike its predecessor in the PSP when it comes to initial impressions. The two share obvious similarities, although the Vita has a considerably larger screen capable of displaying 960 x 544 pixels in 16 million colours on its super-bright 5-inch OLED display. The PSP had resolutions of just 480 x 272 pixels on far less impressive LCD display. At first glance the two look very alike, but don't let that fool you.
Vita features a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU and with performance boosted by a quad-core Power VR graphics processor, making it one hell of a powerful little handheld.
The most promising addition to the Vita hardware design is the addition of the dual analog sticks. The PSP was plagued by its "nub" from the moment it launched, making third-person action and first-person shooters a difficult and at-times frustrating experience on the handheld. Fortunately Sony has done away with the horrendous analog from that handheld, replacing it with two well-placed analog sticks.
How these actually perform is a bit of a mixed bag. After playing countless hours with Nintendo's own redesign and analog stick inclusion for the 3DS, the sticks on Vita feel a little stiff in comparison. Certain games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss struggle with camera problems because of this, while games like WipEout, Virtua Tennis Ridge Racer benefit from the dual sticks.
Video: How Uncharted uses Vita's touchscreen
That said, the design is a massive improvement on the PSP, which was a trend setter on its own accord. It's a very attractive piece of hardware, and certainly resonates with the "wealthy hardcore gamer" analysts have often associated the handheld with.
It seems like a necessity for a new gaming device -- be it a console or handheld -- to launch with at least one "blockbuster" title. Sony's new handheld, the PlayStation Vita, has that sort of support to a degree, with big franchises like 'Virtua Tennis', 'Everybody's Golf' and 'Ridge Racer' launching alongside 'Uncharted: Golden Abyss'.
The lineup is very solid, with games like 'ModNation Racers', 'Lumines' and 'WipEout' adding to a very impressive collection of first-party and third-party games.
However, if for whatever reason the PS Vita launch isn't especially enticing, the PlayStation Store may just have something you're looking for. The most impressive thing about the Vita thus far is its decent range of quality PSP games, a collection of titles that, when added to the already-robust lineup of Vita-exclusive titles, makes the handheld especially appealing to gamers that never owned or played a PSP.
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For those of us that did play PSP and its many games, we may not be as pulled in by what's on offer for download. However, if you're new to the PlayStation portable gaming experience, you have access to easily the deepest, broadest range of games available at launch, ever.
The pricing is definitely inconsistent though, bordering comical. The range of PSP games on offer is superb: you can pick up a classic like Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror for $30, but SpongeBob Squarepants is $50. MegaMan Maverick Hunter X is $16, whereas Megamind is $60, the same price as some Vita launch games.
The Big Question: Should You Buy It?
There's absolutely no doubting the actual quality of the handheld: it looks great, handles well, performs superbly, has a decent battery life and a large software lineup (as well as a fantastic lineup of classic PSP games). It purely comes down to price, and that is ultimately what brings the hardware down. The 3DS stumbled out of the blocks, something many believe was contributed to by the system's $350 launch price (even though you could find it for $280). The difference with Vita is that it's only being stocked by a handful of retailers, and so therefore the competition is fairly even when it comes to pricing.
Furthermore, even if you were to find it for less than $348, perhaps at around $330, you'd still be paying at least $350 when you factor in the much-needed memory card. Problem is that a 4gb memory card simply isn't big enough, as it can only hold 1-2 games at a time.
Does Michael Pachter's assumption that Vita was only for "wealthy hardcore gamers" apply here? Considering Sony's stance to stock it in specialist stores, in certainly seems like an appropriate generalisation; it truly seems as though Sony is looking for a long shelf life and steady sales, rather than a big launch and a quick death.
If you're looking for justification to spend a good $350-$380 on a handheld, it's there in the software. But if you're happy with your 3DS and have no real urge to jump into PlayStation exclusives and a handful of great PSP classics, you might not be the type of gamer Sony expects to be buying its brand new handheld.
By Gaetano Prestia